|Hyperlinks are the objects in web pages, and
in some word processors, that allow you to click on them in order to have
your computer automatically display and jump either to another place in
the document, or to another document altogether, or to a specific place
in another document. In text, hyperlinks usually look like this
though the color might be any color. On a web page the hyperlinks
can be text, or they can be graphic images, or they can actually be any
place on the computer screen, even blank spaces that do not show a link.
Here I will be writing about using hyperlinks in text in papers and essays.
What is particularly nice about hyperlinks for writing anything which is at all complex is that they allow you to introduce material that is relevant to the place where you insert the hyperlink but which is potentially a diversion or distraction to the reader from the main flow of ideas, or from a particular order of presentation of ideas. Any particular order of ideas is "linear" in that one moves in a line from the first sentence or paragraph to the next, and so on to the last. With hyperlinked passages, the reader may visit the hyperlink if s/he wishes or ignore it the first time through, in order to read the main ideas linearly first, going back later for the details as they relate to those ideas. The material in the link may be a brief, essentially parenthetical, comment that is somehow difficult to put in the main text with clarity, or it may be as long as an entire related essay itself. When it is brief, the use of hyperlinks is not much different from the use of footnotes or endnotes that contain such comments. When they are longer and/or frequent, they keep the reader from having to seek the pages where the endnotes begin or from having to find the continuations of footnotes on different pages and from forgetting where one was in the body of the text. They also do not shorten the layout of the main text on the page, as long footnotes do.
They are extremely useful for tying together a great many different, related ideas without having to depart from a clear linear exposition. Because people read and listen in a temporal or sequential order in time, when one is writing or speaking, one has to organize ideas and statements in some particular order of presentation or other. What is a good, intelligible order for one person may not be a good or intelligible order for another. Moreover, many people's minds work in a more web-like manner, seeing various threads and connections -- or writers may want to show numerous threads and connections. That is difficult to do in any purely linear or sequential exposition. Hyperlinks allow one to show the threads and they allow readers to read in the order they prefer -- the order that makes the most sense to them, reading details, reasons, explanations for major points, as they choose, rather than having to wait until they get to an explanation, or rather than having an explanation inserted in the middle of something when they are not quite ready for it yet and are instead seeking an overview or the "big picture."
Finally, hyperlinks can be put inside of hyperlinked material, as is not generally possible or feasible with footnotes, so there can be levels of explanation and connections that the reader can choose to visit as s/he is ready for them or interested in them. And, a hyperlink can be put at the end of any hyperlinked material in order to take the reader back automatically to where s/he left the main, or previous, text.
Hyperlinks thus allow a writer to organize the same material for readers
in many different ways at one time, permitting the opportunity to make
the material more intelligible, more persuasive in cases where persuasion
is important, and more neatly "tied together" or interconnected in those
cases where different aspects of the material are related or where some
element in the material is relevant to many different things.
Arriving at this paragraph by the hyperlink in the
first paragraph demonstrates the use of such links. And now this
hyperlink will take you back to what you were reading.